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Connecting as we roll through time, space, and cultures

Jun 03, 2019

It’s May 5—Bevrijdingsdag, a day celebrating Holland’s 1945 liberation from Nazi German occupation, largely by the First Canadian Army. What better way to launch our Netherlands tour than here, under the tall trees at Kamp Westerbork, which served as a holding pen on the way to deportation and death for thousands of Jews during the Second World War.

We’ve just finished singing, feeling somewhat sheepish about our heavily accented rendition of the Dutch national anthem, when an onlooker approaches. “What an unexpected gift!” she says. “My parents would have enjoyed your singing so much. They never forgot what the Canadian soldiers did for us.”

We may not have sung perfectly, but we’ve made a connection. That sense of connecting across space, time, and cultures continues as we travel by double-decker bus (all aboard, thanks to choir assistant Andrew Blimke’s rollcalls) north to Groningen, then south to Maastricht and finally back to greater Amsterdam. Family duos, including Dr. Charles Stolte and his mother Marge, explore historic streets together. Dutch relatives of various choristers swell the audience at various concerts, arriving by bike, car, and foot. At the Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery, row after row of tombstones take us back to tragedies lived during the Second World War.

Everywhere we sing, "Prayer of the Children," Kurt Bestor’s haunting lament for the youngest victims of war in then-Yugoslavia, strikes a chord. Particularly in The Hague where the perpetrator of the carnage depicted in the song was tried in international court, and convicted.

The Hague is also the home town of Johann van Tulder, our in-the-know tour guide, whose calm breaks only when someone darts into a bicycle lane, courting collision. Thanks to him, we learn “Swiss watch timing” and “hup hup hup” to appointed spots on time, near-jogging to keep up with his Hollanders legs. Thanks also to him, we enjoy standing ovations at every concert—even the one where a mystery stop gets pulled and the organ lets out an unexpected fart.

Through it all, we’re feted with signature Dutch hospitality and feast our eyes on this liquid land where windmills and bikes rule, and shopkeepers switch fluently into English as soon as we speak.